The capital of Salcete province, Margao (also known as Madgaon) is, along with coastal Vasco da Gama, the main population centre of South Goa and is a happy, bustling market town of a manageable size for getting things done. If you’re basing yourself in Goa’s south, it’s a useful place for shopping, organising bus and train tickets, checking emails or simply enjoying the busy energy of big-city India in manageable small-town form.
Though the modern town favours commerce over culture, this wasn’t always the case. Before the Portuguese conquests of the 16th century onward, Margao was a centre for both pilgrimage and learning, with dozens of Hindu temples and a library of thousands upon thousands of volumes. However, all traces were destroyed by the Portuguese, as Margao became absorbed into their 17th-century Novas Conquistas (New Conquests).
Today, it nevertheless makes for a nice wander, while its small Shiva temple, just south of the covered market, still attracts Hindus each evening, to light candles and incense, and leave offerings of garlanded marigolds and coconuts to the ever-popular god. If you happen to be in town towards Christmas, Margao’s Christians also hold a large fair to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception around 8 December.
Margao’s town centre, ranging around the Municipal Gardens, is quite small and compact, with its shops, restaurants, ATMs and covered market all within easy reach. To the north of town, the old Portuguese-flavoured Largo de Igreja district, with its Church of the Holy Spirit, is worth a stroll; about 1km north further is the main (Kadamba) bus station.
About 1.5km southeast of the Municipal Gardens is Margao’s train station (also known as Madgaon train station), a main stop on the north-to-south Konkan Railway, which replaced the now-defunct Old Margao train station, just to the east of the flyover on the south end of town.